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Avian Influenza Overview

Wintering Spectacled Eiders in the Bering Sea between St. Lawrence and St. Mathwew islands. Note fecal material accumulated on ice adjacent to the flocked birds
Avian influenza virus is transmitted by ingesting feces of infected birds.  Note fecal material accumulated on ice adjacent to flocked spectacled eiders wintering in the Bering Sea.

Avian influenza (AI) or "bird flu" is a viral disease that primarily infects domestic poultry and wild birds. While most strains are considered low pathogenic avian influenza (LPAI) and do not lead to severe illness, highly pathogenic (HPAI) strains such as the Asian origin H5N1 may cause mortality in domestic and wild bird populations.

HPAI H5N1 Surveillance

Concerns for human health and the impacts HPAI H5N1 may have on domestic and wild birds prompted a surveillance program in 2006 known as the Interagency Strategic Plan for the Early Detection of H5N1 Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza in Wild Migratory Birds (U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of the Interior, 2006). As a part of this program, thousands of wild migratory birds have been sampled annually in North America and tested for AI.

Alaska's Role in the Potential Introduction of Highly Pathogenic Influenza

Alaska is a geographically important focus of the surveillance program because it lies within the migratory routes many birds follow between North America and Asia. It is widely believed that if HPAI were introduced via North American migratory birds, Alaska is the most likely location for the initial introduction. However, because of Alaska's remoteness monitoring and surveillance efforts are challenging.

ASC Avian Influenza Research

Research at the Alaska Science Center (ASC) strengthens the efficiency and effectiveness of HPAI monitoring and surveillance, while increasing our understanding of LPAI ecology in natural hosts. By using migratory, genetic and immunological data researchers are identifying likely routes of virus introduction, and prioritizing migratory bird species for sampling based on their potential to transmit HPAI into North America. Each year, new information obtained from ASC research is used to make changes to the national surveillance efforts.

To learn about specific projects and how ASC research has influenced HPAI H5N1 surveillance efforts, click on the Related Research link at left.

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Page Last Modified: August 07 2014 10:09:41.